A workplace racial discrimination lawsuit is headed to trial, with allegations that a former Atlanta executive’s handwritten notes prove an employee did not receive a promotion because he’s black.
Lonnie Gray is a former Experis recruiting manager. Gray, who is black, said he’d been in long-term discussions with the company’s Regional Vice-President, regarding his upward mobility within the company.
Robert Persiano, the VP, is white according to the plaintiffs. The two worked in an Atlanta-based office for the company.
In the lawsuit, Gray’s attorneys explain his advancement with consistent promotions over the six-year period ahead of a 2014 meeting with Persiano. Gray had turned down other advanced opportunities outside and within the company at Persiano’s urging and in preparation for a managing director’s job, according to the suit.
That promotion did not materialize, but a year later Persiano’s handwritten notes about the “Lonnie Discussion” were discovered by another employee.
"When I saw the discriminatory notes for the first time, my heart broke," Gray told Channel 2 investigative reporter Nicole Carr. "I had hoped that my work ethic and capabilities would be considered by ManPower (Experis parent company) without regards to the color of my skin, but clearly I was wrong."
“Well I have to tell you that you seldom come across direct evidence of discrimination like in this case,” said Gray’s Atlanta-based attorney, Zahra Karinshak.
“The testimony will be that they (the notes) were to be shredded and that person saw the note and was alarmed by what was in the note and brought it to the attention of Mr. Gray who was a supervisor,” she said.
Carr reached out to Wisconsin-based Manpower, which acts as a parent company to Experis. The group specializes in talent placement for IT, engineering , finance and accounting and similar firms, according to their website.
The company put Carr in touch with Experis’ Atlanta-based attorney, Tasha Inegbenebor.
“The company takes any allegation of discrimination extremely seriously, and that’s why the company investigated these allegations as soon as they were raised,” Inegbenebor told Carr in a phone interview. “They performed an investigation several years ago and found the allegations not to have any merit.”
Inegbenebor confirmed the notes were in Persiano’s handwriting, but they were not his words from that 2014 meeting. She says he was documenting Gray’s words, and the company plans to “vigorously defend itself against the allegations.”
“Would you speak to why you all believe he would have said those things during this conversation?” Carr asked.
“I really can’t speak to Mr. Gray’s state of mind or why he made the comments that are present in the notes, but what I will say is that the manager simply documented the conversation and that’s reflected by the quotation marks that are included there,” Inegbenebor replied.
Neither of the men work for Experis today, and the company could not discuss the circumstances of the departures. Inegbenebor noted Gray received raises following the 2014 meeting, and promotions that came ahead of the meeting and under Persiano’s leadership. The lawsuit outlines allegations of an unqualified, white male receiving the managing director position that Gray said he was in line to receive.
Gray took a similar, out-of-state job with another company shortly after discovering the note and filing the lawsuit.
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